Ghana: New skills inspire farmers
After completing his studies in farming and project management at Bradford University, United Kingdom, Isaac Kankam-Boadu returned home to Ghana with ideas to help smallholder farmers achieve self-sufficiency through sustainable farming practices.
Mr. Kankam-Boadu, who had benefitted from Marshal Papworth, a UK-based charity that provides agricultural and horticultural scholarships to students from developing countries, started by teaching farmers how to increase crop yields through the use of high-yielding and drought-tolerant crop varieties, and how to apply organic manure and inorganic fertilisers to improve soil fertility.
He also taught farmers the benefits of crop rotation, including the use of leguminous crops to minimise soil erosion by injecting nitrogen into the soil.
With the use of strategies such as row planting, fertiliser application and good farm management practices, the farmers’ maize yields increased from two bags per acre to at least six.
“I used to rely on manpower to till the land and was only able to cultivate one acre. But with tractor services, I have increased my farm acreage from one to two,” says Ibrahim Biawurbi, a farmer in Kabilpe, about 500 kilometres north of the capital, Accra.
Considering the recent steady decline in government support for agriculture and the resulting decline in the sector’s contribution to Ghana’s gross domestic product (GDP), Mr. Kankam-Boadu’s intervention is timely. While more than half of Ghana’s population are farmers, the agricultural sector contributed only 19% to GDP in 2015, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
This year the government cut spending in the sector by about $10 million, a move experts warn could have a further bad effect on the country’s food security.
Mr. Kankam-Boadu has overseen the implementation of agricultural projects including the Northern Ghana Food Security Resilience Project (NGFSRP) funded by the European Union and the three-year Integrated Agricultural Productivity Improvement and Marketing Project funded by the Danish International Development Agency and the Rockefeller Foundation through the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which promotes agriculture in Africa.
The resilience project provided some 10,000 rural households in seven districts in the northern and upper western regions of Ghana with farming supplies, including seeds, tools and ploughing services, to help them cultivate crops, including maize, the region’s staple. The second project helped over 11,400 farming households across 10 districts in the northern region cultivate maize, rice, soybean and groundnuts.
Farmers trained in soil fertility technologies reported improvements in production, from 65.4% in 2013 to 98.6% in 2015, and in soil fertility through the use of poultry manure, from 1.6% in 2014 to 45.1% in 2015.
A revolving fund established by the NGFSRP and distributed through farmer-based organisations (FBOs), still helps farmers sustain production even after the project’s end in 2011. Over 93% of the farmers who were supported in 2011 continue to receive funding support. These farmers also honour repayment agreements, says Mr. Kankam-Boadu.
The results have been encouraging, particularly in the lives of the farmers. For example, most beneficiary households are now food-secure, having improved their crop production considerably. In addition, they are selling surpluses on the markets, earning extra income. In the town of Nwampe, for instance, the harvesting and post-harvest training resulted in farmers’ attaining zero storage losses.
“I used to buy food from the market before the start of the next farming season, but for the past two years, I have not bought food from the market. I even had to send my old maize stock to the market before harvesting the new maize,” says Mahama Mumuni of the village of Sawaba, one of the beneficiaries of the NGFSRP project. “Many of us have excess food to sell and save the money to purchase other items from the market.”
With these successes, Mr. Kankam-Boadu hopes that the government will apply nationwide the methods he has been able to apply on a limited scale regionally. “Farmers do not need to receive financial handouts from the government. All they need is input support and training,” he says. “We see firsthand every day the positive effects of agricultural investment.”
Sandra Lauridsen from Marshal Papworth, who visited Ghana in October 2015 to follow up on Mr. Kankam-Boadu’s progress, was pleased with the contributions the Ghanaian was making to his society. “To see the knowledge and skills gained through the scholarships put into practice on the ground, and the impact that alumni are making in their local communities, was inspirational,” she said with satisfaction.